LOS GATOS -- The 25-year-old daughter of the owners of a well-known Santa Cruz surf shop was run over and killed late Friday after she fell out of a moving party bus while fighting with another young woman.
Natasha Noland, daughter of Pacific Wave Surf Shop owners Todd and Sue Noland, died about 11:50 p.m. in the accident, which occurred in the southbound lanes of state Highway 17 just north of Highway 9. Her death, which happened while all the passengers on board were reportedly intoxicated, comes at a time state lawmakers are debating whether to more closely regulate drinking on party buses.
The bus Noland rode on, operated by Party Bus of Santa Cruz, contained 12 to 15 passengers and was headed to Santa Cruz when Noland and a 20-year-old Felton woman got in a fight, said California Highway Patrol officer DJ Sarabia. The passengers, an unknown number of whom fled the scene after the accident, were returning from the Brad Paisley concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View.
"As they're fighting, somehow the door to this bus opens up and they both fall out," Sarabia said. "The victim is run over by the bus, and the other woman is injured."
The young woman who survived was transported to a hospital to be treated for moderate injuries. The woman, whose name was not released, "had road rash all over her body," but didn't suffer any internal injuries, Sarabia said.
Following the crash, officers shut down
Party buses are typically vans that look like airport shuttle buses and can seat from 15 to 30 people. They often have couches and bars instead of row seating and some include stripper poles and dance floors.
Sarabia said the driver of the bus, a woman whom he declined to name, has not been charged and that the incident remains under investigation. A person who answered a phone call to Party Bus on Saturday declined to comment.
With the exception of the bus driver, "absolutely everyone was highly intoxicated," Sarabia said, and none of the passengers were cooperative when questioned about what happened.
Two were arrested for public intoxication, he said.
"We're hoping once they sober up they'll cooperate a bit more," Sarabia said.
Employees at Pacific Wave, where Noland worked as the women's goods buyer, were devastated by the news.
Noland was a "super fun person" who was friendly and generous, said assistant manager Jessica Eshom, 25. She loved country music and was known for being fashionable, Eshom said.
"She had a good heart, a good soul," Eshom said. "She was an all-around amazing person. It's unbelievable what happened."
Another friend of Noland, Natalia Lockwood, 22, said the two had an "instant bond" when they met a year and a half ago at a "girls night in" party at a mutual friend's house in Santa Cruz. After the party, Lockwood and Noland stayed in touch through phone calls, texting and Facebook.
"When we met, it felt like we had been friends forever," said Lockwood, of Santa Cruz. "She was always happy and doing fun things and hanging out with friends."
The accident comes as a bill seeking to clamp down on party buses is making its way through the Legislature. The measure, AB45 by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, which passed the Assembly last year, would require party bus drivers to check the IDs of passengers. If any passengers are under the drinking age, alcoholic beverages would be prohibited from the passenger compartment unless someone 25 or older is on board and has been designated as a chaperon for the group. The bill is expected to go before the state Senate in August.
Had it been law already, "it could have prevented what happened last night," Hill said, noting that the woman who was fighting with Noland was only 20.
Hill sponsored the bill after 19-year-old Burlingame resident Brett Studebaker was killed in another party-bus-related accident in 2010. Studebaker died in a car crash on Highway 101 in San Mateo after he got behind the wheel following three hours drinking on a party bus. At the time of his accident, his blood alcohol level was 0.26, more than three times the legal limit. A passenger in the Studebaker's car suffered brain damage and broken bones.
Doug Studebaker, Brett's father, said he was saddened by the news of Noland's death, adding that it points to the need for regulation of the party bus industry.
"A lot of parents and people don't know the extent of the drinking that occurs and is actually encouraged on these party buses," Studebaker said. "There are, no doubt, reasonably ethical vendors in this industry. And there are certain vendors that are very unethical and allow underage drinking -- in fact make a business of it."
A representative of the Greater California Livery Association, a trade group representing limousine drivers and party bus operators, didn't return a call seeking comment.
Hill didn't know the number of California party bus operators or how many fatal party-bus-related incidents or accidents have occurred in the state in recent years. Other than the deaths of Studebaker and Noland, Hill said, the only other recent one he was aware of occurred in Southern California.
But he added that part of the inspiration for his bill was a call he received from a San Carlos resident after her 15-year-old daughter emerged so drunk from a ride to San Francisco aboard a party bus that she had to be taken to the hospital.
Minors drinking on party buses "happens a lot more than we know of," Hill said.